Iraqis Balk at Long-Term U.S. Troop Deal

Opposition is growing among Iraqi politicians to a long-term agreement for a continued troop presence in Iraq. The current U.N. mandate permitting a U.S. presence runs out this year. U.S. officials are seeking a long-term accord.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

In Iraq today, thousands of supporters of Shiite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gathered in Baghdad to voice are opposition to any long term military agreement between Iraq and the U.S. Baghdad and Washington are in the process of negotiating a so-called Status of Forces Agreement. It would go into effect at the end of the year when the current mandate for international forces expires.

Sadr is not the only Iraqi leader unhappy with the proposed agreement as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

(Soundbite of protest)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Out, out invader, they chanted as thousands of Sadr's supporters came out to protest the current negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq on the status of U.S. forces in the country. Speaking for Sadr, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Gara'awi addressed the crowd saying that any agreement that legitimizes the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is unacceptable.

Sheikh MOHAMMED AL-GARA'AWI: (Through translator) My dear brothers, this agreement is like poison. Beware of it. You are Arab so be free. Enough of being enslaved. Enough of being humiliated. Enough of being subordinate.

NAVARRO: Sadr opposition to a Status of Forces Agreement was not unexpected. He has consistently called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He pulled his supporters out for the government last year because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to set a time table for a U.S. pull out. But Sadr is not alone in his opposition to the proposed military pact with Washington.

Mr. MOHMOUD OTHMAN (Kurdish Parliament Member): Well, it is a - is no transparency at all.

NAVARRO: Kurdish Iraqi Mohmoud Othman says opposition is growing because Iraqi and American officials are being so secretive about the negotiations.

Mr. OTHMAN: Nobody knows what's going on. The mere fact that is not transparent makes people doubt about it. Makes people be against it. Make people think that something's in the cooking which is not in favor of Iraqis, you know.

NAVARRO: The United States has 80 Status of Forces Agreements with countries all around the world, but the negotiations with Iraq are particularly sensitive. On the table are issues like who have criminal jurisdiction over the U.S. contractors? Up until now they've had immunity from prosecution here. Will the U.S. military be allowed to act unilaterally in security operations? Who will pay for equipping the Iraqi military? Where should U.S. military bases be located? Othman says he and other Iraqi politicians are suspicious about the timing of all this and he wants the talks postponed.

Mr. OTHMAN: I think it's wrong to make negotiations for approving a treaty between us and the Americans with an administration which has five months to go. There's no need to do it. We have to wait to have the next administration and then make an agreement with them.

NAVARRO: The U.N. mandate under which U.S. and other foreign forces operate here, does not expire until the end of the year. Sheik Fatah Yitah(ph) is a political analyst and an adviser to the Iraqi government. He says the Iraqi government will be seen as a puppet regime if it gives in too easily to U.S. demands. And, he says, the American seem in an awful rush to push this through before the U.S. elections.

Mr. SHEIK FATAH GITA (Political Analyst, Adviser): I've seen they are really in a hurry of getting this agreement. This hurry is not good with our strategy.

NAVARRO: Doubts about the accord have also been expressed by Abdul Al Aziz al Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the biggest Shiite group in Prime Minister Maliki's coalition. In a posting on his Web site, it said, there is an Iraqi consensus to quote "reject many points waste by the American side because they infringe on national sovereignty." There was also a statement from Iraq's national Security Council urging Maliki not to harm Iraq's national interests.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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